Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

I shall match the brevity of today’s Gospel reading with a brief reflection.  “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  There were moments at World Youth Day in Brazil when I wondered just what was going on, and what I was doing there.  But the looks on the pilgrims’ faces when they reached their destination, or when they saw the Holy Father pass by, were instructive for me, and captured the meaning of today’s reading.  It is essential that disciples, at the very least, not hinder the children who seek the Lord.  Better still if the disciples learn from the example of the children’s joy.

August 17th, 2013

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel shows how Jesus restored marriage to the exalted state that God intended for it in the beginning.  God “made them male and female” so that “the two shall become one flesh.”  A man loves his own flesh and cannot be parted from it; just so, a man loves his wife and cannot be parted from her.  Jesus tells his hearers that the Mosaic practice of granting a bill of divorce was a concession to men’s hardness of heart, of their refusal to love their wives as they ought.  Yet in the new dispensation, a man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery.

Jesus’ disciples are understandably taken aback at the seeming harshness of his teaching.  If his words are true, they think, then it is better not to marry.  Jesus’ reply is telling.  He does not retract or soften his teaching, nor does he agree that it is better not to marry.  Instead, he opens up yet another possibility: the celibacy that he himself has embraced.  It is not for everyone, but only for those to whom it has been given as a gift.  Here again Jesus uses strong language that is lost in the New American Bible translation.  He does not speak of people “incapable of marriage,” but of eunuchs who have been castrated for the Kingdom of Heaven.  His point, I think, is that celibacy is even more demanding than marriage, and his disciples should not think of celibacy as an escape from the commandment to love.

Marriage and celibacy are two complementary, not opposed, states of Christian life.  They share the same basic logic: losing oneself in order to love God and others.

August 16th, 2013

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Late summer is a special time for Jesuits, as we celebrate the feast of our founder (July 31), his companion Bl. Peter Faber (August 2), and the Assumption, which was the day in 1534 on which the first Jesuits took their vows.  In his homily to a Jesuit audience on the feast of St. Ignatius, Pope Francis spoke of a sentiment that surely every sincere Christian must feel.

“Looking to Jesus, as St. Ignatius teaches us in the First Week, and especially looking at Christ crucified, we feel that sentiment, so human and so noble, that is the shame of not being able to measure up.”

How often I too have felt this sentiment, not only in looking upon the Lord, but perhaps in an even deeper way when looking upon the Jesuit saints, men who shared the same fallen condition as me and yet who gave themselves so completely to God and worked such mighty deeds in his name!  But the Pope tells us that this sentiment leads us to humility.

“Humility makes us aware every day that it is not we who build the Kingdom of God, but rather it is always the grace of the Lord that acts in us; humility that urges us to give ourselves not in service to ourselves or our ideas, but in the service of Christ and the Church, like clay vases – fragile, inadequate, insufficient, but inside which there is an immense treasure we carry and communicate.”

August 15th, 2013

Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe 

The twentieth century was the worst in history, not principally because of the unprecedented scale of the slaughter that took place, but because of the diabolical lengths to which regime after regime sought to dehumanize their victims in the process.  Today we commemorate a Polish Franciscan whose road to sanctity passed through Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp that has become shorthand for the evils of the age.

St. Maximilian serves as my personal reminder that God is always near and offering his grace, no matter how bad the circumstances become.  For if it is possible to be a saint in Auschwitz, it is possible to be a saint anywhere, in any situation.  I find great comfort in this, wondrous proof of the goodness of God and of his love for mankind.  But the corollary is that I—we—have to be mature enough not to use ill circumstances to justify our lack of faith, hope, or charity.  We must, instead, trust as St. Maximilian did in the God whose love is greater than all the forces of evil that ravage the world in any age.

August 14th, 2013

Tuesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

8-13This summer I participated in MAGIS, a ten-day experience for pilgrims from Jesuit schools and youth groups that takes place immediately prior to World Youth Day.  Our group of thirty or so undertook a fifty-five-kilometer journey over the course of three days from the town of Santa Luzia to a Marian shrine atop a tall peak.  As we climbed ever upward, I frequently said to myself, “I’m too old for this” (though “too out of shape” would have been more accurate).  People faltered along the way, which made us band together and offered many opportunities to forget about our own struggles.

Around noon on the third day, we at last arrived at the shrine, which offered one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen.  We spent an hour in silent prayer looking out over God’s creation and giving thanks to our Lady for one another and for the successful completion of the pilgrimage.

August 13th, 2013

Monday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Rio de Janeiro’s most famous landmark is the Cristo Redentor, a hundred-foot-tall statue of the Risen Christ that stands atop a mountain peak overlooking the city.  My students and I planned a visit to the site, but the day we chose dawned rainy and gray.  Despite my warnings that there would be nothing to see, they wanted to go anyway.

We caught the metro, then a bus, then a van that took us to another van that took us to the bottom of the peak, which we then climbed along with thousands of other pilgrims.  When we reached the top, it was pouring rain, the wind whipped our tired bodies, and there was nothing to see but gray.  Even the top of Jesus’ head was barely visible.  I said to myself, “This was a waste of time and money.”

But my companions, and the countless thousands of other pilgrims who made the trip that day, felt otherwise.  They were smiling, clapping, singing, and taking pictures.  One even lay down on the wet concrete to get a better camera angle of the statue.  They were caught up in World Youth Day’s spirit, one that made other cares quite unworthy of concern.  This is a mark of the good spirit, that in our joy we are led to forgetfulness of self.

August 12th, 2013

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I recently returned from two weeks in Brazil, where I celebrated World Youth Day along with 3 million other pilgrims.  The WYD theme this year was “Go and make disciples of all nations,” which dovetails quite nicely with today’s Gospel reading.  There is much to say on the subject of discipleship, but I wish to highlight just one aspect that is especially poignant in today’s passage from Luke.

Peter poses the question, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?”  Implicit in such a query is the understanding that, though everyone is called love God and keep his commandments, there are different ways of doing this and different corresponding levels of authority and responsibility.  Jesus confirms Peter’s insight by assuring his hearers that the servants who know their master’s will but do not keep it will be treated more severely than the servants who are ignorant.  “Much will be required of those entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

I do not know many of our dear Magis readers personally, but my intuition tells me that, in general, you are people who have been entrusted with much, and perhaps even with “more” (as the very word magis suggests).  It is characteristic of such people to be always about the Lord’s work, always eagerly awaiting his return, “ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.”

August 11th, 2013

Saturday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

“The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all.” St. Paul’s words, apart from their specifically theological content, express a basic truth about human action: we do what we love. This is true even when we do things we know we shouldn’t, because the action proceeds from the heart’s desire. A man must learn to restrain certain desires by the use of reason, but in the end he will always gravitate towards what he loves. As Augustine says, “My love is my weight.” Hence man’s task on earth is not merely to restrain bad passions, but to love what is good and to set his heart wholly upon it.

“The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all.” Does Paul mean “Christ’s love for us” or “our love for Christ?” Both, it would seem, are essential. God loves us first, so what love we show him is always reciprocal and secondary; but his love impels us only when it becomes our love for him, the principle that orders our life from within and flows out into the world like streams of living water.

June 15th, 2013

Friday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

“You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart… It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

I quote today’s Gospel at such length because I think these are words that many contemporary people, including Catholics, would rather forget. We must not forget. My only commentary is the following: here, as always, the Lord Jesus speaks with authority, and here, as always, he speaks with love. He tells us the truth about God and man, about man and woman. Whatever we have done with our lives, whatever we might do with them in the future, we must first listen to Jesus.

June 14th, 2013

Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Christopher Dawson, in his article entitled “Christianity and Sex,” writes of how we find in certain saints “the fullest expression of Christian asceticism-an asceticism which is fundamentally humane and friendly to life.” Surely St. Anthony of Padua is one of these saints.

Born in Lisbon, Fernando (his baptismal name) spent his early years among the Augustinians, but then was inspired to join the Franciscans after five of them were martyred in Morocco in 1220. He spent a brief time in Morocco, hoping to preach among the Muslims and be killed for the faith himself. Compelled to leave North Africa by illness, he set sail for Portugal, but was blown off course and landed in Sicily. He made it to the Italian mainland, where he would exercise his apostolate of preaching and holy living. He became the first Franciscan teacher of theology, who combined eloquence, simplicity and fervent love of God in his lessons. Anthony died in 1231, at the tender age of 36. He was canonized within a year, and when his body was exhumed three centuries later, his tongue was found to be incorrupt. Pius XII proclaimed him a Doctor of the Church.

My mother taught me to pray to St. Anthony for things that go missing. For me as a boy, that mostly meant toys and books. Now I pray to St. Anthony if I go missing, if I should wander from God and hence lose myself.

June 13th, 2013
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